What You Don't Know Can Kill Your Project

Material Handling Management interviewed consultants Sal Fateen and Robert Footlik for its upcoming February Regulatory issue. Fateen is both a registered engineer and president of Seizmic Engineering, a consulting firm in Pamona, California. Footlik is president of Footlik & Associates, Evanston, Illinois. Both have extensive experience in dealing with local authorities to get material handling projects approved. Here's a portion of the Q&A from both interviews. -- Tom Andel, chief editor

MHM: What's the most challenging aspect of regulation as applied to material handling operations?

Fateen: There's a new International Building Code, IBC 2000, that was supposed to replace all the codes that have been used all along. However, some of the states that were involved in generating that code decided not to adopt it because of political reasons. So we have codes that, even though they were supposed to be obsolete, they weren't. Instead of having three model codes to confuse us, now we have four. The fire chiefs in California were not involved in writing one of the sections of the code, so they said 'You engineers who wrote the code are not supposed to write it without our permission -- therefore we'll write our own code.' So they're writing yet a fifth code.

MHM: How can our readers who are embarking on a building or systems project cope with this confusion?

Fateen: You have to consider where the job is, what municipality, and find out which code that municipality goes with. If you have a chain of retail stores, used to doing the same old cookie-cutter projects in one seismic zone, and you expect to do them the same way elsewhere, you may find another state has a different code and the values change. Whatever worked before doesn't work any more. You can't assume that because you did a job last year in a certain period of time that the code is the same and you can do the same this year. There are certain quirky little changes that a municipality could have. They could adopt two or three items of this code -- just pick and choose.

That's why I say to get in touch with the municipality, get commitments from them on what they want for this project. Do this before talking to the material handling equipment dealers. Don't expect the dealer or manufacturer to know what you'll need. Things change every day. Whatever expertise we developed a year ago goes down the tubes.

MHM: What are some of the more common problems that result?

Fateen: If you decide to build and ask the builder what you can get away with for the slab, he may say five inches is good enough. You build the slab and you try to put the racks in based on your loads, and your rack guy says you need a six-inch slab. So the city won't allow you to put in the load you planned to put in. That's why I suggest, from the beginning, get up to speed on the politics of the certain town, city, municipality or county involved. Find out what their quirks are. That will make life a lot easier because there's mega confusion going on today.

Retrofitting can also expose complications where regulations are concerned. Robert Footlik recalls a material handling project in San Francisco from early last year:

Footlik: This guy's existing mezzanine was undersized and not seismic. He wanted to add onto the building until he became aware that these mezzanine deficiencies would triple the cost of an addition. This add-on would have been only about 10 percent the size of the building. His racks and shelving were also non seismic. There could be no retrofit until he tore everything out and put code-compliant equipment back in.

This doesn't happen just in California any more. In Southern Illinois there are a couple areas that need seismic pallet racking and shelving, and have seismic considerations equal to or even greater than California. If you want to do a retrofit or layout changes, the authorities can legitimately demand full seismic retrofits, both to the building and to the material handling system.

MHM: What if you decide to take your chances without a permit?

Footlik: Let's say you've put a project out for bid that includes shelving, which involves carpenters and millwrights. Then there's a labor dispute. If you've gone the no-permit route, all it takes is one phone call from a disgruntled party to tip off the inspector who'll come in and shut down the job.

MHM: What are some other potential stumbling blocks?

Footlik: Let's say you wished to add storage to an existing mezzanine over an office area. It involves nothing more than putting shelving up there. In many municipalities you need a permit. To do a permit they'll need an ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] upgrade and they'll require you to know what the capacity of that mezzanine is. The local guys can also require you to come back and retrofit something to beef up that mezzanine, even if the capacity is sufficient in terms of live load. It may not be sufficient under current conditions for the dead load and/or seismic considerations. Then they can come back and say you really need to have an elevator. Now you have what is essentially dead storage up on a mezzanine and an ADA elevator to get there. That can kill the project if you didn't plan for it.

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